Yesterday, I waited in line for an hour and a half to see a flower that smelled like dirty socks. And it was totally awesome.
The flower in question, Amorphophallus titanum (also known as ‘The Corpse Flower’ because of the bloom’s stench, or ‘titan arum’ because of its immense size) was located at Michigan State University’s Plant Biology Conservatory. Standing at around five feet tall, the mere size of this bloom would have been enough to attract a small crowd of eager plant enthusiasts. But size is just one feature of this amazing plant.
In its native Sumatra, the titan arum blooms infrequently, and when that bloom occurs, it usually lasts only for 36 hours at most. In order for reproduction between males and females of the species, the plant needs pollinators, and fast. So how does it get them?
That’s where the titan arum gets evolutionarily creative. Rather than smelling sweet to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, or other usual pollinators, the titan arum smells like rotting meat, to attract carrion beetles and flesh flies; insects which thrive on decomposing animal matter. The titan arum even takes this act a few steps further, having huge, red-maroon leaves the color of meat, and maintaining a temperature similar to that of the human body. This acts as a double attractor, as the heat both mimics the temperature of a decomposing body of animal matter, and further diffuses the putrid stench from the flower.
Though the flowers bloom rarely in the wild, and even more rarely in cultivation, around five titan arums bloom in cultivated gardens around the world each year, with ever increasing success. If you get the chance to see one in bloom, jump at the opportunity before it’s too late. Tell your friends. Everyone needs to experience this weird wonderful world we live in before it, like the titan arum’s bloom, is gone for good.
Click here to see a short clip of Sir David Attenborough talking about these incredible plants.
Edited by Mark S.